House Panel Subpoenas Ross For Documents Detailing Census Delays

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 09: House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) gavels in a hearing about the 2020 census in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill January 09, 2020 in Washin... WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 09: House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) gavels in a hearing about the 2020 census in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill January 09, 2020 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony about 'hard-to-reach' communities and how the federal government could work to gather better census data from under-reported groups like Asian Americans, Native Americans, African Americans and recent immigrants. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) MORE LESS
December 10, 2020 5:47 p.m.

Another subpoena fight is brewing over the Trump administration’s handling of the 2020 census.

On Thursday, the House Oversight Committee announced it was subpoenaing Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the survey, for information about recently-identified snags in the processing of the data.

The “anomalies,” as they’re known, are routine and in some ways predictable, given the way the pandemic complicated the enumeration.

But fixing them will cause delays in delivering the census data that are likely to make it impossible for President Trump to implement his anti-immigrant policy for congressional apportionment. Thus, outside census observers are on high alert for any signs that the political appointees at the Census Bureau will force career experts to cut corners to finish the processing sooner, at a cost to the census’ accuracy.

House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-CA) is demanding that the Commerce Department hand over various presentations and other documents that career experts have prepared laying out the anomalies and their potential effect on the release timeline. Her committee obtained a few examples of these documents from a source within the Bureau earlier this month.

When she sent a voluntary request for the materials last month, after the anomalies became known, the Commerce Department produced some documents, a Maloney letter to Ross said Thursday. But many of them were irrelevant, she said, while others were severely redacted.

Since TPM first reported the delays that the processing hiccups were causing, the number of identified anomalies has grown. But the Trump administration has refused to publicly acknowledge the Bureau’s private estimates for how the delays will affect the timeline for releasing the data. Documents detailing the more recently discovered anomalies are among those that the Commerce Department is withholding, Maloney’s letter said. She also highlighted the indications from the Government Accountability Office that the Commerce Department was stonewalling the watchdog agency as well.

This is the second time Ross has been subpoenaed by the committee for census-related documents. His refusal to comply with a subpoena for documents linked to the administration’s push to add a census citizenship question prompted the House to hold him and Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt. The House also went to court to secure the documents but that case has yet to be resolved.

Trump’s apportionment policy, which seeks to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count used to determine the allotment of House seats each state gets, is also facing several court challenges. The Supreme Court heard arguments in one such case last month and is expected to deliver a decision in the coming weeks.

Update: In a statement sent to TPM Friday evening, a Commerce Department spokesperson accused the committee of engaging in “political ploys.” The spokesperson said that the Department “continued to cooperate in good faith,” while noting that some 5,500 pages of documents had been handed over pursuant to the committee’s request.

“The Department intends to continue producing responsive documents to the Committee on a rolling basis,” the statement said.

Read the subpoena and Maloney’s letter to Ross below:

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